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October 27, 2009
On the Beat
Perrotto Covers the NBA

by John Perrotto


(John Perrotto, who has covered MLB and college basketball for both Baseball and Basketball Prospectus, now extends his domain to the NBA. Beginning today, you can read all of John's work across both sites in "On the Beat".)

The Nets figure to be in for a another long season in 2009-10 after going 34-48 a year ago. However, the franchise suddenly has high hopes for the future thanks to a potential new owner who has the locker room buzzing.

Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian worth a reported $9.5 billion, has agreed to buy 80 percent of the team and 45 percent of the proposed Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn from owner Bruce Ratner. Mikhail's deep pockets should greatly strengthen a franchise that lost a reported $25 million in the first half of this year.

Prokhorov has developed the reputation of being a free spender while running CSKA Moscow in the Euroleague. Considering his personal wealth, the Nets figure to be players for such free agents as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudemire when they are scheduled to hit the open market at the end of this season.

"It gives our team a little more of a direction," Nets point guard Devin Harris said. "Obviously, with a new owner whose reputation is a winning reputation, we have a little more direction. Brooklyn looks like it could be more of a possibility now, so we go from there."

Nets backup point guard Kenyon Dooling is following the sale very closely. Not only he is eligible for free agency at the end of the season but he is a vice president of the NBA Players Association.

"It's no secret we're having financial difficulties," Dooling said. "So I'm very enthused by this. I'm in a position where I might be re-signed or not the following year. It might be a situation where money decides. Nobody wants the decision to be based solely on money. It affects everything. The type of owner you have is a direct reflection of what type of team you have."

The sale stipulates that the team must move to Brooklyn and it must be approved by the NBA's board of governors. However, Commissioner David Stern is a major proponent of globalizing the game and is expected to strongly recommend that the board accept Prokhorov's proposal.

"We are looking forward to the Nets' move to a state-of-the-art facility in Brooklyn," Stern said. "Interest in basketball and the NBA is growing rapidly on a global basis and we are especially encouraged by Mr. Prokhorov's commitment to the Nets and the opportunity it presents to continue the growth of basketball in Russia."

A Fresh Start in Minnesota

Timberwolves GM David Kahn had a busy offseason after being hired to turn around a team that was 24-58 last season. Kahn had been away from the NBA for six years since he was the Pacers' GM but made up for lost time.

Kahn brought in Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis as head coach, replacing Kevin McHale. Rambis wants to be play an up-tempo style and Kahn went about trying to find backcourt players who will fit the mold.

The Timberwolves traded guards Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the Wizards for the fifth pick in the draft, which they used to select point guard Jonny Flynn. While the Timberwolves' other lottery pick, guard Ricky Rubio, opted to stay in Spain for now, they did sign free agent guard Ramon Sessions.

It would be a quite the stretch to think the Timberwolves could even get to .500 this season. However, Kahn is hopeful they can at least surpass last season's win total.

"I wouldn't put a number on it, but if we stay healthy, I would say, in all likelihood, yes, we can win more than 24 games."

The real rebuilding is expected after this season when the Timberwolves exercise $20 million in salary-cap space and add as many as three accumulated first-round draft picks. While that doesn't help much in the present, Kahn does think the Timberwolves will put an entertaining team on the floor in 2009-10.

"I mean this sincerely: They will not suffer this year," Kahn said of the Timberwolves' fans. "This team will be fun to watch. We have some people now with some rare skills and we will be a tough team to play. I recognize we almost certainly are not a playoff team and almost certainly won't be even knocking on the door. We have too much to learn and grow and develop but this will not be painful. I think this will be a fun, exciting, intriguing year. I think this team will start to win some hearts and minds."

Kings Stay in P(a)lace

Despite rumors and speculation to the contrary, the Kings are not considering leaving Sacramento. Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof was adamant about that when he told The Sacramento Bee that his family will not file for relocation by the March deadline, meaning the team will stay in California's capital for at least one more season.

Maloof reiterated that the Kings would like a new facility to replace aging Arco Arena. However, they are willing to be patient until the nation's economy improves.

Maloof also put to rest speculation that president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie's future is in doubt. The Kings were 17-65 last season as they missed the playoffs for a third straight season.

"You have to be loyal," Maloof said. "We were in the playoff eight straight years (from 1998-2006). That just doesn't happen. And Geoff put that team together, so if he did it once, he can do it again. And if we did it once, we can do it again."

Rockets Plan to Fly

The Rockets won't have center Yao Ming this season because of left foot surgery and forward Tracy McGrady will miss at least the first month while recovering from knee surgery. Thus, coach Rick Adelman will try to make up for the lack of an inside presence by having his team run the floor as much as possible.

The Rockets want to improve on their average of 9.1 fast-break points per game from last season.

"I haven't seen very many all-out fast-break teams in the NBA," Adelman said. "It's too well-coached and too well-scouted. But you can be a very good up-tempo transition team and that's what we want to do. We want to get the ball up the court quicker than we have in the past. If we can get guys up the court and attack the defense before they're completely set, then we can find things out and we can be successful. We can't just walk it up. We don't have the personnel."

The Rockets have a speedy point guard in Aaron Brooks, a quick combo guard in Kyle Lowry and a pair of good three-point shooters who can spread the floor in small forwards Trevor Ariza and Shane Battier.

"We'll try to get easy baskets," Brooks said. "I think that's the key. Teams are good when they have set defenses. It's hard to win in this league when you are in the halfcourt constantly. I think we have to get out and get easy baskets."

Grading the Summer

NBA.com polled each of the league's general managers earlier to see which team they thought had the best offseason.

The Spurs were the overwhelming winners, being named on 72.1 percent of the ballots. And while 60.7 percent of the GMs picked the Lakers to repeat as NBA champions, there is no denying the Spurs seem the most likely threat to Los Angeles in the Western Conference after general manager R.C. Buford and coach Gregg Popovich performed a most interesting summer makeover of the roster following a first-round playoff loss to the Mavericks in five games.

The biggest move was acquiring forward Richard Jefferson from the Bucks in a trade. Jefferson says he is hungry to win a championship after playing the bridesmaid so many times in his college and professional career. He should give a boost to the Spurs' offense with his ability to both drive to the basket and hit the jumper.

"The last couple of years, it really consumed me," Jefferson said of winning a championship. "I've been to The Finals twice. I lost in the national championship to Duke, lost in the semis and won a bronze in Greece. I've been so close so many times. When you're 21 in the NBA Finals, you don't really think a lot about it but whenever you get to that 29-year-old mark, which I am, you're sort of like, 'wow.'"

Jefferson is one of three newcomers added to help a slimmed-down Tim Duncan in the frontcourt. Veteran Antonio McDyess was signed as a free agent to play center and second-round draft pick DeJuan Blair will provide defense and rebounding off the bench at both the power forward and center positions.

Popovich believes the Spurs' biggest addition might be a player who was already on the roster. That is shooting guard Manu Ginobili, who was limited to 44 games last season because of injury.

"Just watching Manu in practice makes us remember how much we missed him last year and even the year before when he was at half-speed in the playoffs," Popovich said. "He is an incredible player and we were offensively challenged without him. We didn't realize how much we were challenged until we got to see him play again. He adds so much now that he's healthy."

Bullish About Defense

Defense has been the theme of the Bulls' training camp in Vinny Del Negro's second season as coach after they ranked 18th in defensive rating (110.3) last winter while finishing 41-41.

"We've got to play a team game," wing Luol Deng said. "We've got to be unselfish on the court. I think defensively we're expecting to be better. We're really trying to focus on that in this camp and offensively, we're trying to move the ball a lot better than we have in the past."

The Bulls will miss shooting guard Ben Gordon on the offensive end after he bolted for Detroit as a free agent in the offseason. However, they could gain defensively as Gordon's replacement, John Salmons, is four inches taller at 6'6".

"We're going to miss Ben's explosive scoring a little bit," guard Kirk Hinrich said. "But we've got guys who can score. It was five years, I guess, so it's a little different not having him here."

However, Bulls' management can live with scoring fewer points this season if they also allow fewer points.

"We're all on the same page that we must get better defensively," general manager Gar Forman said.

"We'll emphasize defense," Del Negro said. "We'll emphasize rebounding. Offense usually takes care of itself."

Hollins Under the Gun

Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins is on a short leash, having signed a one-year contract for 2009-10 after finishing out last season as the interim coach when he elevated from assistant to replace Mark Iavaroni.

Hollins is seemingly in a situation where he is set up to fail. The Grizzlies were 24-58 last season and used most of their $20 million in cap space during the offseason to sign two players with questionable reputations in forward Zach Randolph and guard Allen Iverson.

Hollins, though, says he feels no extra pressure.

"It's just a matter of continuing to build," he said.

The Grizzles began a major rebuilding process last season when rookies Darrell Arthur, Marc Gasol and O.J. Mayo combined to start 221 games. Mike Conley is beginning his third season in the league and Rudy Gay has just three seasons of experience.

Randolph and Iverson joining just a young team would seem to be the makings of a most combustible mix. However, both insist they are ready to provide leadership to the Grizzlies.

"It's easy to stereotype a squad once they've had a losing record for a while," Iverson said. "The fun part about being a veteran is you get a chance to lead guys somewhere they've never been before and give them something they've never had as far as believing."

Added Randolph, "I haven't won since Portland, so I'm willing to do whatever it takes. Sacrifices are going to have to be made, and I'm willing to do that."

Sixers in Transition

More than a few eyebrows were raised when 76ers president Ed Stefanski hired Eddie Jordan as coach. The Sixers' personnel doesn't seem to mesh well with Jordan's offensive philosophy of fast-breaking and running the precise cuts and moves of the Princeton-style halfcourt offense.

Jordan admits it has been difficult to get all of his players on the same page of his playbook.

"There has been a lot of frustration at times," Jordan said. "We don't want to see that. We've got to work through it and not show it."

Elton Brand has had a particularly tough time adjusting as he has spent his career getting the majority of his shots by posting up and clearing out on isolation plays.

However, Jordan does believe that two of the Sixers' other key players, Andre Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert, have bought into the system, and that Jason Kapono and Willie Green are ready to shine in it.

John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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Looking Ahead (10/26)
No Previous Column
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On the Beat (10/30)
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2009-10 NBA Preview (10/27)

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